Favorite Books in 2023: Part 4

W. Jackson Watts

Each year I produce a list of the best books I read in the past calendar year. I simply don’t have the luxury of confining myself to those titles only published in that specific year, though obviously some of them are quite recent.

I increasingly find it difficult to produce these lists. A book I expected to enjoy will end up being a letdown. Another book that unexpectedly came onto my radar mid-year or even late in the year ends up being a page-turner. But I read as broadly as I can and try not to get bogged down too much. Thankfully, through the years I have found that God providentially directs me to books that seem to meet timely needs—personally, professionally, and intellectually.

Since comparisons are difficult for many reasons, I’ve opted to categorize my favorite books using different superlatives. I hope the nuance will help readers best understand what I’m saying (and not saying) about each book.


Probably the most important theological book I read  in 2023 was Craig Troxel’s, With All Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will Toward Christ. I began Troxel’s book in 2022 but got sidetracked and set it aside. This was a mistake. I returned to it in 2023 and wasn’t disappointed. Troxel tackles a subject that is often misunderstood—mainly on the popular level: biblical anthropology. Specifically, how can we speak of the various “component parts” or aspects of human nature in a way that is faithful to Scripture and practically clear? Troxel clearly and carefully explores various terms the Bible uses to describe human nature, and even does so relatively briefly (under 300 pages). The Scripture index makes the book not only important, but useful. Several times as I preached through passages referring to the “heart,” I pulled out Troxel’s work and consulted him on those texts.

Many Free Will Baptists will have learned their anthropology from F. Leroy Forlines. I think they will find Troxel’s work to build on Forlines’s notion of the Total Personality, while going further.

I read three very important books which examined controversial, current topics: Paul Miller’s The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism?, Russell Moore’s Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, and Hannah Barnes’s, Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children.

 The first two will be of more native interest to Christians since they deal with various trends presently in the Protestant-evangelical world. Miller’s work is more academic, while Moore’s is more polemical. They both serve an important role in identifying troubling inconsistencies that Christians should take seriously. While some will differ with both on a couple of prudential issues, these titles issue important challenges to heed.

Barnes, on the other hand, essentially provides an exposé on the now infamous Tavistock gender clinic in England. Perhaps the most important skeleton key for unlocking (unveiling?) some of the insanity concerning “gender-affirming care” is developments in Europe. The halting, backtracking, and altogether collapse of some of the medicalization of “trans youth” should serve as a massive red flag to those plunging full steam ahead in America.

The two books that made me say “Aha” the most were Luke Timothy Johnson’s The Mind in Another Place: My Life as a Scholar and McKay Coppins’s Romney: A Reckoning. Johnson is a New Testament scholar who taught for many years at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He’s prolific, but also firmly in the mainline Catholic-Methodist arena. Thus, readers of this site would join me in strongly disagreeing with him on many, many things. However, his memoir caught my eye since I have frequently enjoyed the life stories of many different theologians. I expected that his memoir would answer some questions (and confirm some suspicious) I had harbored about the hermeneutics and presuppositions of many liberal theologians and biblical scholars. His book did exactly that.

Coppins’s volume on Romney, on the other hand, dealt with one of the more consequential political figures of the last fifteen years. Like the Johnson volume, this one confirmed some of the suspicions I had about the political gamesmanship we’ve witnessed in the last decade. In some instances, it was simply depressing. In others, it was explanatory. Unless you’re interested in contemporary politics, it might not be for you. However, as something of a time capsule for future political students and historians, it will probably be useful.

The book that made me laugh the most was Jerry Seinfeld’s Is This Anything? I’ve long appreciated Seinfeld’s “observational” style of humor, most of which is very clean and silly. Here and there he pushes the boundaries in ways I cannot commend. Thankfully, he mostly steers clear of that.

The two books that made me weep, cringe, and laugh the most (Yes, all three) were Phillip Yancey’s Where the Light Fell and Harrison Scott Key’s How to Stay Married: The Most Insane Love Story Ever Told. Both are memoirs of sorts, and both cover some thorny ground in people’s personal lives and family histories. They are raw and unfiltered, which comes through in the choice of language. Nevertheless, both were difficult to put down (especially the latter). In the interest of not giving away any crucial details, I’ll simply commend them both as books which express the kinds of experiences some of us have had—or at least, people to whom we minister have had. Truly, Key’s book had more well-written lines and paragraphs than any book I’ve read in a long time.

Finally, the book which personally edified me the most was Russell Moore’s The Storm-Tossed Family. Usually, writing as you speak isn’t necessarily a good quality. Moore is one of the authors to whom I don’t apply that standard. His book is lucid, vivid, moving, and challenging. It sounds the notes that a first-rate marriage-and-family retreat speaker might sound, but with much more theological precision and depth. I still feel this book’s insights vibrating in my heart and mind.

P.S. I am currently reading Abigail Favale’s The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory. I only mention it because I have been initially impressed by it. If it holds up all the way through the conclusion, then I’d mark it my top book in the “Philosophy/Ethics” category–though there’s certain some theology, social history, etc. in the book, too. 

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